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A possible Late Cambrian vertebrate from Australia


THE fossil record of early vertebrates starts with certainty with the dermal armour of agnathan fish from the Early–Middle Ordovician of Australia1,2. Recent controversial acceptance that conodonts3 and the fragments called Anatolepis4,5 may be vertebrate remains6, extends their fossil record back to the Late Cambrian. Now a new type of phosphatic skeleton from Australia shows a three-layered structure that indicates vertebrate affinity, but with several unique features not known in other vertebrates. The new evidence challenges the most widely accepted current theory for the development of the vertebrate skeleton7–11, which assumes the odontode (skin denticle) to be the primitive patterning component. The Australian material provides an alternative model for early vertebrate dermal armour with which to assess the vertebrate-like hard tissues in conodonts12,13 and the dermal armour of Anatolepis4–6,14.

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Young, G., Karatajute-Talimaa, V. & Smith, M. A possible Late Cambrian vertebrate from Australia. Nature 383, 810–812 (1996).

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